It is a truth universally recognized that MI5 is always responsible for all evil-doings within British government. At least, that's always the case in British thriller movies. John Crowley's Closed Circuit is a testament to this in every way. A by the numbers thriller that leaves little room for surprise, Steven Knight’s script is almost too carefully constructed to build on the viewer’s anticipation and desire to know what’s going to happen next.
Closed circuit TV, one of the most ubiquitous forms of public surveillance in London, is how we are introduced to a terrorist explosion at Borough Market. The man deemed responsible for masterminding the operation, Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), has remained largely silent in the wake of questioning by both lawyers and British media. It isn’t until six months after the explosion, when Farroukh’s defense barrister is killed, that Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) and Martin Rose (Eric Bana) are chosen to represent him in his case. Although the two of them have had an affair, which resulted in the end of Rose’s marriage, they choose not to reveal this compromising information to the Attorney General (played by the always eerie Jim Broadbent). They take a vow not to communicate or discuss any information regarding the case, though, of course, this vow is quickly broken.
MI5 makes its presence immediately known to Claudia by implementing an agent named Nazrul Sharma (Riz Ahmed) to watch over and protect her in light of top secret evidence she is allowed access to in order to build her defense. Martin, in the meantime, has started noticing signs of being observed, specifically after hailing the same exact cab twice in one night. His attendance at a dinner party with guests that include American journalist Joanna Reece (Julia Stiles) and, unbeknownst to him, a high-ranking member of MI5 by the name of Agent Piccola (Barbara Bobulova), also leaves him wide open for scrutiny. As he grows more and more uncertain of who he can trust—even traces of doubt about his partner, Devlin (Ciaran Hinds), start to arise—Martin goes to question Farroukh and clandestinely writes down the accusation, “I believe you are an MI5 agent.” Farroukh’s panicked and disconcerted reaction leads Martin to believe he’s correct in this assumption.
Knowing that the only person he can really place faith in is Claudia, Martin arranges to meet her in secret at a football (or soccer) match. When he tells her of the information he has learned, she insists on presenting the judge with the information. Martin warns her that doing so would be the equivalent of a suicide mission. Whether or not Farroukh double-crossed MI5 or was double-crossed by the terrorist organization within which he was planted is left to the imagination. In spite of Martin’s misgivings about letting MI5 in on what they know, Claudia demands of Agent Piccola the right to question their informant, Farroukh’s own son, Emir (Hasancan Cifci). It is at this point that MI5’s measures to keep their secret under wraps begin to escalate to an even more extreme degree.
While Closed Circuit is a technically ”good” movie, it is almost as though there is too much dispassion and methodical arrangement within the screenplay. The relationship between Martin and Claudia could have also been expounded upon further and their affection for one another made to seem a bit more tangible. But, in Knight’s defense, it is very rare these days to see a thriller film not based on a novel. Closed Circuit is, thus, if nothing else, a true original.